Two billionaires, four intrepid space tourists, 72,000 donors and $210M raised for a children’s hospital.
Photo credit: Inspiration4 / John Kraus
History was made on 16 September 2021, when the first all-civilian human spaceflight mission launched from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It also happened to be the first time a person with a prosthesis ventured into space.
But, for the fundraisers amongst us, perhaps what is most historic about this expedition is the ‘astronomical’ (see what we did there?) amount of money the voyage raised for a children’s hospital, including a US$50 million gift solicited through a single Tweet.
The Inspiration4 mission was the brainchild of billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer. Isaacman spent an undisclosed amount to charter a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and blast himself and three crewmates into a low Earth orbit, splashing down safely in the Atlantic after completing a three-day flight.
It was undoubtedly one giant leap for space tourism, but this mission was about more than just ground-breaking space travel; at its core was also a colossal fundraising target.
The beneficiaries back on Planet Earth
In 1962, the same year an American orbited the Earth for the first time, a new hospital opened in Memphis, Tennessee, with the aim of finding cures for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, regardless of their race, ethnicity, beliefs or a family’s ability to pay.
That hospital was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which has invented treatments responsible for pushing the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80% in the US.
The Inspiration4 mission aimed to raise US$200 million for St Jude. A very ambitious goal for a very worthy cause, but the fundraising target was not the only link between the expedition and the children’s hospital.
The three lucky adventurers to join Jared Isaacman
Hayley Arceneaux was one of the three lucky crew members to secure a donated seat alongside Isaacman on the Inspiration4 mission. She also happens to be a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital physician assistant and a childhood cancer survivor. Hayley was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was 10 years old. Her family turned to St. Jude for her treatment and care, which included around a dozen rounds of chemotherapy, a limb-preservation surgery with knee replacement and placement of a titanium rod in her left thigh bone. As an adult, the experience inspired her to pursue her role as a physician assistant working with cancer patients at St. Jude.
Hayley rounds out a historic trifecta of being the first person with a prothesis to enter space and being one of four crew on the first all-civilian human spaceflight by also being the youngest American to fly to space at 29 years of age.
Joining her and Isaacman are Chris Sembroski, a data engineer who entered a raffle by donating money to St. Jude, and Sian Proctor, a geosciences professor who won her spot by entering a contest for digital entrepreneurs.
In contrast to the years of training completed by professional astronaut crews, the Inspiration4 crew undertook just six months of preparation, climbing Mount Rainier together and completing astronaut training activities.
Each of the four crew members represent the mission pillars if leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.
Jared Isaacman, as the leader of the mission, brought with him the rather helpful skill of being a trained jet pilot. He also chipped in a cool US$100 million towards the US$200 million fundraising target.
But wait, we said two billionaires didn’t we? So where does the second one come in?
Wouldn’t it be nice to think we could all secure our next major gift by simply putting out a Tweet communicating the need? Well, that’s exactly what happened for the Inspriation4 crew when they made a call out for more funds on their return to Earth.
What resulted was a pledge from the CEO of SpaceX, who happens to be the one and only Elon Musk. His response?
Look, we acknowledge there was considered strategy and pre-existing relationships involved, not to mention Musk’s vested interested in space travel, but his gift is impressive nonetheless and takes the fundraising tally to date to US$210 million.
With millions raised for children’s cancer research and historic firsts achieved in human spaceflight and exploration, the sky is definitely not the limit when it comes to what we can accomplish with space travel… so watch this ‘space’!
You can watch the Inspriation4 splashdown here or, for a more in-depth look into this historic voyage, check out the docuseries ‘Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space’, showing for a limited time on Netflix.